A 69-hour government shutdown ended Monday after Senate Democrats agreed to vote for a funding bill that will keep the federal government open until Feb. 8.
The shutdown that ended Monday began at midnight Friday when the previous funding bill, passed at the last minute in late December, expired without a replacement.
While a continuing resolution on Friday to fund the government passed the House, Senate Democrats – who hoped to use the funding deadline to leverage a deal to provide legal status for several million so-called “Dreamers” who were brought to the country illegally as children – voted against the House bill. But Congressional Republicans and the White House refused to negotiate on immigration during a shutdown, having accused Democrats of prioritizing the needs of noncitizens who are living in the U.S. illegally over the needs of American citizens, sick children and the military.
“As I have always said, once the Government is funded, my administration will work toward solving the problem of very unfair illegal immigration,” President Donald J. Trump (R) said in a statement after singing a continuing resolution to fund the government. “We will make a long-term deal on immigration if, and only if, it is good for our country.”
The start of the shutdown Saturday placed the more than 70,000 federal workers who live in Montgomery County on furlough, though some agencies used leftover funds to remain open as the White House sought to minimize the visible effects of the shutdown, contrasting their efforts with the previous Obama administration, which prominently featured “closed” signs at national parks and monuments to place blame for the shutdown on Republicans who wanted to de-fund the Affordable Care Act.
Hours after federal workers had left their offices after filling out furlough paperwork, the Senate voted 81-18 on a continuing resolution to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program for several years and the government for several weeks, conditioned on a promise by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to allow debate on an immigration reform bill that will replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The House followed suit with their version of the funding bill several hours later and sent it to Trump’s desk for a signature.
While Republicans blamed Democrats’ prioritizing of immigration issues over any others, Democrats took a different view.
“This shutdown was caused by a difficult Trump White House,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who voted in favor of the continuing resolution to fund the government after voting against the resolution Friday.
Democrats allowed the government to shut down after a series of broken promises by McConnell and President Trump to settle on a solution to confer legal status on participants in the DACA program, which allows work permits to be issued to persons living in the U.S. illegally if they were brought here as children. The program began under then-President Obama, but Trump announced he would end the program last fall and charged Congress with finding a solution for the roughly 800,000 participants in the program and the several million so-called “Dreamers” in similar circumstances by early March.
Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said Democrats were also looking for a shorter resolution to fund the government until Feb.8 rather than the end of the month as Republicans originally proposed.
“We were looking for a shorter term [continuing resolution] rather than the one that basically would have gone through the end of February,” Cardin said.
Democrats’ decision to end the government shutdown was not unanimous. While most Senate Democrats followed Minority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) lead to the shutdown – including Van Hollen and Cardin – some more progressive-leaning senators voted “no” on the continuing resolution because they did not trust McConnell to deliver a vote on DACA. Cardin and Van Hollen credited Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake with helping to bridge a partisan divide in the Senate to reopen the government.
While progressives and immigration advocates said they were skeptical of McConnell’s promise to eventually have a vote on DACA, Van Hollen said he was not worried about McConnell keeping his word to hold a vote on an immigration bill since public commitment from 15 to 20 Republican senators and Senate procedural tools will assure a vote on any such bill.
Van Hollen said Democrats still have some leverage in the Senate and could use budget caps on defense and nondefense spending, while he is hopeful that a bipartisan agreement to increase defense and domestic spending – combined with an immigration reform measure – will hopefully prevent another shutdown.
“We were looking for a way to both end the Trump shutdown, but also achieve our other objectives such as commitment to fight the opioid epidemic, fund community healthcare and have a path on DACA,” Van Hollen said.
With the government funded until Feb. 8, Congress now moves to negotiations over DACA. Before the shutdown, a bipartisan subcommittee led by Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) spent days negotiating a deal that would have given legal status to the “Dreamers,” an end to chain migration, reorganize the diversity visa lottery and provide more funding for border security. Both Cardin and Van Hollen said they support the Graham-Durbin proposal.
On Tuesday, the White House came out strongly against the Graham-Durbin proposal, saying Trump would not sign the bill as currently proposed.
“In short it’s totally unacceptable to the president and should be declared dead on arrival,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Even with the president’s approval it is unclear if an immigration deal to reform immigration, give legal status to “Dreamers” and provide funding for more border security could get the 60 votes in the Senate needed to overcome a filibuster. With the continuing resolution only funding the government to Feb. 8, Cardin and Van Hollen tried to remain optimistic about avoiding another shutdown.
“We are now back to work and I think that’s good for everyone,” Cardin said. “We know the clock is ticking.”